This article was first published in October 2007.
An Intranet start page is a valuable piece of real estate. You can decide who gets to see what based on roles and permissions, ensure that everyone is fed group-wide announcements and even get brand-buy in by exposing your employees to your products, messages or even corporate identity on that space. HR situations such as “I didn’t get the email” or “that A3-sized safety warning must have fallen off the wall while I plugged my fingers into the socket” may be averted to some degree.
Web start pages target the individual user and aim to provide them with their favourite links, feeds and widgets. They have really come a long way from the days of Windows Active Desktop. Google, Netvibes, Pageflakes, My Yahoo! are playing in this space and making their start pages almost indispensable, much like the portal strategies of a few years ago wanted.
Intranet start pages and web start pages are quite different: one facilitates work for the enterprise, the other provides a launching pad into the web mostly for general interest. Now I like a CMS for my documents and I like web pages for their “Daily Me” functionality. How can they be merged?
I don’t have access to an intranet full-time, I consult from my notebook. There is no point in setting up a start page in my browser saying “Me, do this!”, “Well done I!”, “Comment on this document and send to self for review”. However, I do use a content management system (Drupal) to categorise my research, past articles and files related to my own bookkeeping. It runs online as well as offline when I may be somewhere with fluctuating or no connectivity (read: beach). Microsoft desktop applications have never made it intuitive to manage your own server on your desktop, and even the lag time with waiting for the native document format, Word, to open or close has turned me off it.
I would like to see an online service that will be the first thing I open (after my eyes and the kettle) which acts as the current web start pages do. My RSS feeds, my widgets, probably some more interactivity with my own blogs. However, when I take my notebook offline, I would love it if I had that service on my own machine so that I could use it as a CMS for my articles, blog posts, get to read those RSS items that I’d starred but never got around to. Then when my wife says “No internet today!” I can concur but still take my essential reading along.
When I go online, the service would ask me what I’d like to upload to live, re-sync and all would be well with the world again. Perhaps when I view a page online I could select it for offline viewing, where the service uses some smart screen-scraping to provide me with just the post or article, not the visual gumph that comes with it. Go online again, and the screen scraping info gets submitted towards the semantic web project.
It would store my local files online as a backup or for sharing. That way, the web and desktop are both used as a platform, both with the latest copies. The application probably most likely to effect this is Google Gears, an open source browser extension that lets you create web applications that can run offline.
Essentially I want the freedom of a web start page with the structure and support of a local CMS. The two should be the same service. I know with a bit of working around one could get this working, and that one can theoretically achieve these aims with products like Google Gears and Google Documents.
I would probably accept cached advertising if it was a free service, so that when I view offline I still get the advertisements that were meant for my online experience. Otherwise I would pay for such a service in my personal capacity. For an enterprise? Syncing already works well or logging into your intranet via VPN, although you may have marketers without constant access to the network and they would do well to be able to display from their notebooks without relying on connectivity. Salesforce.com have done something along these lines using Gears. Their graph for depicting the process is as follows:
I would like to the start pages vendors or the embedded service players like Google and Yahoo! step into this market. Other technologies flying around at the moment like Yahoo! Pipes (mashups), XUL, Google Office applications, MS Sharepoint (enterprise 2.0 enabled) and plain Open Source projects are all brilliant solutions looking for a problem.
Perhaps they can begin with the marriage of the desktop to the web.